Biden and Macron take on war in Ukraine, trade issues in bilateral meeting
President Joe Biden and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, presented a united front Thursday at the White House, pledging to sort out their economic differences and presenting an overture to Vladimir Putin should the Russian leader show interest in ending the war in Ukraine.
Biden hosted Marcon for a state visit — the first of his presidency — as a nod to the two nations’ longtime friendship and the renewed commitment to trans-Atlantic alliances in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But a growing tension surrounded their meeting, with Marcon out front among European leaders in expressing frustration at their economic relationship with the United States.
But both men, after an hours-long summit that preceded a glitzy state dinner, focused on the deep ties between their nations and their shared commitments to defeating Putin and helping the world rebound from a global pandemic and weather a possible impending recession.
“France is one of our strongest partners and most capable allies and Emmanuel has also become a friend,” Biden said in a joint news conference after their meeting. “We address all challenges together and occasionally we have some slight differences but never in a fundamental way thus far.”
One of those differences took center stage ahead of the meeting, as Macron openly accused the U.S. of using protectionist policies. The French president has specifically bristled against tax incentives for clean energy included in the Inflation Reduction Act — a move that European leaders fear could cause sectors of their own economies to shift operations to the United States.
On Thursday, Biden made “no apologies” for the legislation but acknowledged “glitches” in the bill, declaring the U.S. “never intended to exclude” allies who were cooperating with Washington. He also suggested there were “tweaks we can make” to satisfy allies.
Macron lavished praise on Biden throughout the news conference — addressing him as “Dear Joe” more than once. He stressed that the two nations needed “to resynchronize” on trade but expressed confidence that the U.S. and Europe would iron out their differences.
“We want to succeed together, not one against the other,” Macron said.
Due to its proximity to the war zone, Europe has borne the brunt of the economic impact and the continent is teetering on the edge of what could be a significant recession. A number of European leaders, including Macron, have begun pushing against a war expansion that could prolong the death toll and economic cost.
The two leaders on Thursday stressed that Putin’s war must end in defeat and pledged to stand with Kyiv for as long as it took to repel the invasion. In the run-up before the conflict, Macron took it upon himself to try to negotiate with Putin, though his efforts to avert the war failed.
Biden, who has not spoken to Putin since the war began nearly ten months ago, opened the door Thursday to discussions but insisted that certain conditions would need to be met.
“I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if, in fact, there is an interest in him [to look] for a way to end the war. He hasn’t done that yet,” said Biden, who vowed that any conversation would be done in concert with the NATO allies. Both he and Macron also stressed that any peace deal brokered must be acceptable to the Ukrainians.
Biden had previously said he would not speak to Putin at all, unless it was to negotiate for the release of American citizens being held in Russia. White House officials had begun taking great pains to make sure that Biden and Putin did not cross paths at last month’s G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia before the Russian leader opted not to attend.
The war has battered the global economy and fueled an energy crisis in Europe, which has become substantially dependent on Russian fuel.
After the war began, supply dwindled and prices soared, exacerbating inflation that was already rising as economies emerged from the Covid pandemic. The U.S. has stepped in to help replace Russia as one of the continent’s biggest natural-gas purveyors. But its shipments of liquefied natural gas came with much higher prices. Officials said negotiations would continue.
Officials on both sides of the Atlantic, though acknowledging policy differences, stress the two leaders have a warm relationship. Macron, for a while, tried to cozy up with Trump but that relationship grew strained. He and Biden have spent time together at a series of summits and the French leader threw his arm around his American counterpart’s back as they walked along the White House grounds.
During a morning welcome ceremony, both Biden and Macron expressed dedication to a united partnership between the two countries and to working together to solve global issues such as world hunger and climate change.
“Stalwart friends in times of triumph and of trial, France and the United States will meet the future just as we always have, confident in our shared capacity, sustained by the strength of our shared values and undaunted by any challenge that lies ahead,” Biden said.
Macron had taken a stronger tone the day before the bilateral meeting, accusing the U.S. of pursuing a protectionist economic policy by excluding Europe from the IRA.
“This is super aggressive for our business people,” Macron told a group of American lawmakers. “You will perhaps fix your issue, but you will increase my problem.”
Officials said that a task force would meet to attempt to bridge the differences.
The diplomacy was set to shift to a glitzier setting Thursday night for a multi-course state dinner held at the White House that was decked out for the holidays. The two men and their wives also dined at a Washington restaurant Wednesday night. Asked by a reporter about why he chose Macron for his first state visit as president, Biden replied: “Because he is my friend.”
The Macrons and Bidens have also exchanged a number of sentimental gifts during the visit. One of Macron’s several gifts to the president and first lady included a vinyl and CD of the original soundtrack of the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which is the film that the Bidens went to see on their first date. The Bidens’ official gift to Macron and his wife was a custom mirror made of fallen wood from the White House grounds, which is a reproduction of a mirror from the White House collection.
Eli Stokols contributed to this report.
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